Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fall of a Kingdom

It took me some time to get into Fall of a Kingdom by Hilari Bell. This was not entirely the fault of the book. I was on vacation with the family and this book was not an easy one to relax with. Once I was in the car on the way home I was able to give it my full attention and became much more interested.  It is a book about kingdom politics and has a con artist as one of its main characters so how could I not be?
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Stories are told of a hero who will come to Farsala's aid when the need is greatest. But for thousands of years the prosperous land of Farsala has felt no such need, as it has enjoyed the peace that comes from being both feared and respected. Now a new enemy approaches Farsala's borders, one that neither fears nor respects its name and legend. But the rulers of Farsala still believe that they can beat any opponent.
Three young people are less sure of Farsala's invincibility. Jiaan, Soraya, and Kavi see Time's Wheel turning, with Farsala headed toward the Flames of Destruction. What they cannot see is how inextricably their lives are linked to Farsala's fate -- until it's too late.

Yay for a fantasy trilogy not set in a pseudo medieval Europe type place! Farsala is an ancient Persian type country about to be smacked down by a Greco-Roman type empire. The Farsalan nobility are haughty and arrogant. Everything in Farsala works to the benefit of the deghans (nobility). If as a peasant you serve a generous deghan so much the better for you. If not your life is misery. The religious system of the country is exploited by and used to benefit the deghans completely. Priests are easily bribed and do the willing, not of their god but the highest noble bidder. In Farsala only the deghans and their servants and peasant bastards are allowed to fight in the army. The invaders, the Hrum, are a systematic conquering machine. The situation in Farsala is not looking so good. I liked the way Bell presented both nations. This is not a story about a good and great nation fighting the evil conquering empire. Both governing systems have flaws. Both armies have good men and evil men. I like how it is made a point that it will matter little to the peasants which army wins. Their lives won't change that substantially. There is no great nationalistic pride or patriotism in Farsala except amongst the deghans, which is historically realistic.

The book is told in third person limited and switches between the three main characters. This way you get the story in pieces and are never entirely aware of all that is going on at any given time. Bell did an excellent job of layering and placing the different perspectives so the story is never difficult to follow.  The main characters are Soraya, the daughter of the Farsala's military commander, Jiann, the illegitimate though much honored son of the same, and Kavi, a not quite honest peddlar. I am not a big fan of the "spoiled princess is humbled and learns important lesson" plot so Soraya's sections were a bit tedious to get through for me. She is, in my opinion, the weakest part of the book. She is the one that is learning to work the "magic" that makes this a fantasy so I suppose she is rather important and only bound to become more so. I still would have been happy if a jackal had eaten her. As much as  I dislike the spoiled princess character I love the devious inventive con man type. Especially when he is placed with and against the honorable to a fault soldier type. So Kavi and Jiann made this book work for me. Especially Kavi. I like him quite a lot. I think he was the character Bell did the best job fleshing out and giving a whole personality to. He is riddled with faults but he is extremely sympathetic. And he is a snarky conniving double dealer so it was impossible for me not to like him.

The magical element of the book is not really well established.  This volume is laying the groundwork, building the world, characters and conflict for the other two books in the trilogy and at times the execution of this is stilted and clumsy. There wasn't a whole lot of time to focus on Soraya's lessons which involve finding her inner spirit and communing with the inner spirits of natural elements (water and fire are her focus here). There is also an ancient myth foretelling the rebirth of an ancient warrior to come to Farsala's aid as promised by the Farsalan god. There are a lot of strands here and they are woven together very loosely (some are just left hanging) by the end of the book.

I am interested to see where the story goes in the next two volumes. I suppose it is too much to hope for a scene where Kavi and Jiann combine their talents and shove Soraya off a mountain but I will be optimistic. I am not optimistic she will grow on me as a character.

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